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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Lydia
Amaryllis Theatre Company

Lydia
Anjoli Santiago and
Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly

Lydia, playwright Octavio Solis' tale of a Mexican-American family in the early 1970s, has a lot of assets. It has well-developed, empathetic characters, an intriguing concept, graceful transitions between English and Spanish dialogue that even non-Spanish speakers can follow, and it explores issues such as immigration that remain pertinent today. And Amaryllis Theatre Company's production is blessed by several strong performances. But for every poetic, lyrical speech in Solis' play, there's another that is embarrassingly overwritten. And the playwright's desire to cover numerous provocative issues forces the play's action to go in too many directions at once.

Rosa and Claudio Flores moved from Mexico to El Paso so that their family could share in the American dream, but the dream is fading as Rosa and Claudio struggle to get by. Their three teenage children have their own share of troubles. Younger son Misha is a sensitive type who just quit the football team; he would rather spend his time writing poetry. Older son René comes home bloody after initiating street fights, and says he'd like to spend his days "smoking weed and listening to Sabbath." And then there's daughter Ceci. Two years earlier, just before her fifteenth birthday, Ceci was in a car accident that left her in a semi-vegetative state. But even though the sounds that come out of her mouth are unintelligible to the people around her, Ceci can communicate with the play's audience, rising from her prostrate position on a bed to comment on the action. Now, after two years spent caring for Ceci, Rosa is going back to work (she has been re-offered her old job as an office clerk), so she hires a maid named Lydia whose duties include being a nurse to Ceci. Lydia's earthy allure proves to be a strong temptation to the men in the house, but she develops a special bond with Ceci—she's the only one who can hear the thoughts in Ceci's mind and convey them to the family. (How she does that, whether through E.S.P. or some mystical connection, is never explained, but it's a nice touch of magic realism in an otherwise gritty play.) Oh, and there's one more character: Alvaro, the Flores children's cousin, just back from an Army stint in Vietnam. He has now joined the border patrol, and that's a sensitive issue for the family, since papa Claudio and maid Lydia are in the country illegally. Alvaro is also a source of romantic fascination for two of the characters—but maybe not the ones you'd expect.

Got all that? The multiple plot threads in Lydia allow Solis to focus on a lot of issues—in addition to immigration, there's religious faith, violence, war, child abuse, adultery, fidelity, homosexuality, incest, and probably a few others. At two and a half hours (including an intermission), the play seems too overstuffed. Half an hour could easily be cut without hurting the story or the mood. (It's one thing to learn that Misha writes love poems to Lydia, but when we finally hear one of the poems after about two hours, one wishes that the playwright would just get back to the plot.) And it all winds up with a disturbing and ludicrous final scene in which two characters seem to violate most of the good faith the audience has in them.

Still, Josette Todaro's direction shows a good mastery of the play's rhythms, contrasting the gentleness of Ceci's speeches with the rough-hewn interaction between the father and his sons. And there are some good performances here. Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly is ethereal as Ceci, Robert DaPonte is sullen and angry as René, and Mário Canavarro's Misha is convincingly conflicted as he tries to appease everyone. Joe Guzmàn is excellent as the brooding father, while as the mother, Johanna Carden gives a touching portrait of a woman who is willfully blind to the crisis brewing around her.

Solis should be congratulated for his ambition, but in Lydia, his desire to cover so many bases sometimes feels so blatant that the play is unsatisfying.

Lydia runs through April 23, 2011, at The Playground at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Ticket prices are $10 (with discounts available for seniors and students) and are available by calling 215-564-2431 or online at www.amaryllistheatre.org.

Lydia
By Octavio Solis
Directed by Josette Todaro
Production Manager/Set Designer: Lance Kniskern
Lighting Design: Jerold R. Forsyth
Sound Design: Parris Bradley
Costume Design: Maggie Baker

Cast:
Ceci ... Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly
Claudio ... Joe Guzmàn
Rosa ... Johanna Carden
René ... Robert DaPonte
Misha ... Mário Canavarro
Lydia ... Anjoli Santiago
Alvaro ... Jonathan Rivera


-- Tim Dunleavy



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